Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Islands in the Stream

First recorded (as a demo) by The Bee Gees (1983).
Hit version by Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers (US #1/C&W #1/UK #7/CAN #1/AUS #1/NZ #2/SWE #3 1983).

“Islands in the Stream” is a timeless song penned by the Bee Gees, taking its name from the classic Ernest Hemingway novel. Originally conceived in an R&B style for Diana Ross (or Marvin Gaye, depending upon which Gibb brother tells you the story), the Gibbs later adapted it for inclusion in Kenny Rogers’ album, Eyes That See in the Dark.

In a candid revelation on Good Morning America, Kenny Rogers shared his initial aversion to ‘Islands in the Stream’. Despite his reservations, the transformative moment came when producer and co-writer Barry Gibb recognized the missing piece. After days of experimentation in the studio, Gibb declared, ‘We need Dolly Parton to make this thing pop.’ Serendipitously, Ken Kragen, Kenny’s manager, encountered Dolly at a grocery store, swiftly bringing her into the project.

The magic unfolded after Dolly joined the session. Kenny Rogers, who had previously harbored doubts, experienced a change of heart, declaring, “Now, I like the song.” The collaboration between Rogers and Parton not only elevated “Islands in the Stream” to legendary status but also stands as a testament to the unpredictable and serendipitous nature of musical alchemy.

“Islands in the Stream” knocked Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” out of the #1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100, also topping the Country and Adult Contemporary listings. In December of that year, it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over two million physical copies in the US.

The song was equally an international success, topping the Australian music chart one for one week in December 1983, and peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart.

Robin Gibb, interviewed re: “Islands in the Stream”:

Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream” (1983):

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